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Saturday, November 05, 2016

First Impressions of the 2016-17 Season

My first impression of the 2016-17 NBA season is that Russell Westbrook is impressive. He averaged 34.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 10.0 apg while leading his Oklahoma City Thunder to a 4-1 record. The Thunder improved to 5-1 tonight as Westbrook produced 28 points, six rebounds and eight assists while playing just 28 minutes in a 112-92 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Westbrook started the season with a bang, erupting for 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in a 103-97 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. That was just a warmup for game two, when Westbrook scorched the Phoenix Suns with 51 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a 113-110 overtime win. Critics harp on the fact that Westbrook had 44 field goal attempts--but the Thunder were +7 when Westbrook was on the court in a game that they won by just three points. The team needed every ounce of energy that Westbrook provided. How rare is a 50 point triple double? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the last player to accomplish this feat--in 1975!

Westbrook had 33 points, 16 assists and 12 rebounds in the Thunder's 113-96 rout of the L.A. Lakers, becoming the first player since Magic Johnson in 1982-83 to post two triple doubles in the first three games of a season. Westbrook is the fourth player ever to have two triple-doubles in the first three games, joining Johnson (twice), Jerry Lucas and Oscar Robertson (twice). Last season Westbrook posted 18 triple-doubles, which tied Johnson (in 1981-82) for the most in a single season in the last 40 years--and unlike many players, Westbrook is not chasing personal glory at the expense of team success: the Thunder have won 21 straight games (regular season and playoffs) when Westbrook posts a triple double. That is the longest streak since the Lakers won 24 straight games when Magic Johnson had a triple double during the 1984-87 time frame.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Westbrook became the first player with at least 100 points, 30 rebounds and 30 assists in the first three games of a season (I suspect that this is a post ABA-NBA merger statistic, as Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson probably accomplished this at least once at some point during their careers). Through three games, Westbrook averaged a triple-double: 38.6 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 11.6 assists. The amazing thing is that it is not unthinkable that Westbrook could maintain production in that neighborhood over the course of the entire season; sure, he will not likely average 38 ppg, but 30 ppg is easily within reach, as is 11 apg--and while 12 rpg from the point guard position is a bit much to expect, 9 rpg is quite doable for Westbrook.

By his standards, Westbrook had a subdued performance in the Thunder's 85-83 victory against the L.A. Clippers: "only" 35 points, six rebounds and five assists. Westbrook is the first player to score at least 150 points in the first four games of the season since Michael Jordan in 1991-92. That Thunder win is notable because the Clippers are viewed by many as a championship contender, while some observers questioned if the Thunder would even be in playoff contention after Kevin Durant's departure. 

Speaking of Durant, one of the early season games that all fans and commentators circled on their schedules was Oklahoma City at Golden State, as Durant faced the teammates that he abandoned. The Warriors are the first team in NBA history to feature two former MVPs who are each less than 28 years old (2014 winner Durant, plus 2015 and 2016 winner Stephen Curry) and they obviously are a much more talented team than the Thunder--but the Thunder enjoyed a 29-19 lead when Westbrook took his customary rest near the end of the first quarter. With Westbrook out of the game, the Thunder collapsed, yielding a 19-3 run as Golden State never trailed the rest of the way en route to a 122-96 win that some view as a vindication of Durant's decision. Other than Kyle Singler, every Thunder bench player had a double digit negative plus/minus number versus the Warriors. With Westbrook on the court, the Thunder can compete with anyone but they will not contend for a championship until they add some depth, either through player development or player acquisition.

The aftermath of Golden State's rout demonstrated that no matter what Westbrook says or does he will be criticized by the mainstream media. One article praised Durant for supposedly overcoming the way that Westbrook had allegedly been cold and dismissive toward him. That is one of the most ridiculous pieces of "analysis" that I have seen in a long time--and (sadly) I have seen a lot of ridiculous NBA analysis. As Kenny Smith would say, let's not just keep it real, let's keep it right. Durant left the Thunder. He supposedly considers Westbrook his blood brother, yet he notified Westbrook of his departure by text message.The mature way to handle that breakup was face to face, man to man. In my book, Durant is the betrayer of Westbrook's trust. As I have said before, Durant has the right to leave the Thunder and join the Warriors--and I have the right to be disappointed in his decision and to point out why it would have been nice if he had possessed the fortitude to continue to battle the Warriors instead of joining forces with them. As for Westbrook's role in this situation, it is not up to him to say anything to Durant. Durant literally snuck out the back door; if he wants to communicate with Westbrook, he knows where to find him.

Westbrook has that Kobe Bryant mentality that is so rare--and so great to see. Westbrook is not trying to make friends on the court. He is trying to win games and (hopefully) championships. Westbrook is not thinking about his personal statistics or about what anyone is going to say about his statistics or his shot selection; he is trying to make plays to help his team win. His game is a lot different than Bryant's--Bryant was bigger, he was a better shooter and he had a more reliable postup game--but the mindset is the same: Bryant once said that he was "not with" the whole idea of if you try your best and lose that is OK and it is obvious that Westbrook feels the same way. Three years ago, I prophetically wrote that Westbrook "is perhaps the NBA's most underrated and overly criticized great player, taking those two dubious honors from Kobe Bryant (who finished fourth in the 2006 MVP voting after dragging the Lakers to the playoffs despite starting alongside Kwame Brown and Smush Parker)." Westbrook is intense even during the NBA All-Star Game (he is the first back to back All-Star Game MVP winner), which makes him a throwback to the days when the likes of Julius Erving, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas made the All-Star Game a competitive East-West showdown.

*****

Some people acted like the sky was falling after Durant's Warriors got blown out by the San Antonio Spurs in the first game of the season but the reality is that the Warriors have so much talent--plus top notch coaching--that it is inconceivable that they will win less than 60-65 games (barring major injuries, of course). The Warriors will overwhelm most teams with their talent and they also will enjoy the coaching advantage almost every game as well. However, that first game did once again point out that there is a blueprint to beat this team, much like there was a blueprint to destroy the seemingly invincible Death Star. The Warriors are a tenacious defensive team on the perimeter but they are vulnerable in the paint. Attacking them in the paint can lead to layups and free throws; it can also hurt Golden State's offense by fatiguing their stars and/or saddling those stars with foul trouble. These issues will not matter much during the regular season but they could become very significant during the playoffs. Even before the Warriors essentially traded their size and their depth to acquire Durant, they were vulnerable inside, as we saw last year when the Thunder pushed the Warriors to game seven and the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in game seven of the NBA Finals--but now that vulnerability is acute. Does Durant provide enough offensive firepower to compensate? It will be fascinating to find out the answer to that question.

*****

James Harden is going to put up video game-like offensive numbers this season. If his Rockets manage to scrape together 45 wins (far from a sure thing), the "stat gurus" in the mainstream media may very well make enough noise on his behalf that he is given (as opposed to earning) the regular season MVP. Under new coach Mike D'Antoni, Harden is going to score more than ever and--because he will be expected to initiate almost every single offensive action when he is on the court--he will set a career-high in assists. Harden will also play minimal defense and the Rockets will advance no further than the first round of the playoffs, which has been a recurring theme during Harden's tenure in Houston (three first round exits in four years) and will continue to be a recurring theme unless he changes his mindset (which he appears to be unwilling or unable to do). I recently heard a great adage about coaching: if a coach's team continues to do something wrong, at some point it must be said that the coach is either teaching it or allowing it. D'Antoni either teaches or allows that defense is not a priority, a philosophy that meshes very nicely with Harden's approach to the game. D'Antoni may feel like the Warriror's 2015 championship vindicated his coaching style but that is not true; the Warriors (despite their lack of size in their best lineup, which causes the aforementioned weakness in the paint) are an excellent defensive team, while none of D'Antoni's teams have been good defensively.

If D'Antoni is happy and feels vindicated, if Harden is satisfied with padding his personal numbers and never winning a championship and if Houston fans/Harden fans are happy, then who am I to complain about the Rockets?

*****

The Indiana Pacers improved to 3-3 tonight with a 111-94 win over the 3-3 Chicago Bulls. The Pacers are widely touted as a top four team in the East, while I predicted that the Pacers would not even make the playoffs. It is obviously still early in the season and maybe I am missing something, but it sure appears like the Pacers (to borrow a phrase from the late football coach Dennis Green) are who I thought they were: I do not see them as a contender because I expect them to be a bad defensive team and the Pacers are currently sixth in scoring and 30th (last) in points allowed. I am not sure how many last ranked defensive teams have made the playoffs but I suspect that number is very small. The Pacers will probably not finish as the NBA's worst defensive team but--no matter how good their offense is--they likely will have to move up at least to 15th-20th defensively to have a realistic chance of proving me wrong by qualifying for the playoffs.

*****

Another team that I picked to miss the playoffs, the Bulls, started off quickly but has now dropped to .500. Jimmy Butler is an excellent two-way player, Dwyane Wade's resume is familiar even to casual NBA fans and Rajon Rondo is a talented and cerebral--if at times difficult to work with--player. The Bulls obviously have a lot of talent at the 1-2-3 spots but it is questionable if they have enough shooting and a stout enough defense to be a playoff team. Of all the teams that I picked to miss the playoffs, this is the one squad that I freely admitted might prove me wrong; after six games it is way to early to issue a final verdict but let's just say that I still feel comfortable with my original prediction.

*****

It is easy to forget that for the first six years of Michael Jordan's career, the accepted storyline was that he was a great individual talent who lacked the qualities that enabled Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to lead their teams to championships. Then Jordan won three straight titles with the Bulls to place himself no worse than equal to Johnson (who by then had been recognized by most objective people as the player of the 1980s by outperforming/outlasting Bird five championships to three). When Jordan retired in 1993 he was already a sports icon but after he came back in 1995 and promptly led the Bulls to three more championships he reached an almost untouchable level and became the default answer for most people when discussing the question of who is the greatest player of all-time (which is an unfair slight to other members of the pro basketball Pantheon but that is a debate for another day).

LeBron James' defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers are 6-0 and James is indisputably leading the way, even if his individual numbers are subdued by his lofty standards. During the first portion of James' career, he repeatedly failed to perform up to his capabilities in the NBA Finals and he decided to leave a team that had won 60-plus games in back to back seasons in order to surround himself with name brand talent to help him chase his first NBA title. Regardless of what the "stat gurus" might have said, at that time James could not be placed ahead of his contemporary Kobe Bryant, let alone the retired players in the Pantheon. Then James made it to four straight NBA Finals with the Miami Heat, winning back to back titles in 2012-13. James' return to Cleveland has so far resulted in two more Finals appearances plus one NBA championship. James has recently stated that his primary goal has always been to chase the "ghost" in Chicago (i.e., Jordan). Can James catch Jordan, either in popular perception or in tangible accomplishment?

Jordan went 6-0 in the NBA Finals while winning six Finals MVPs. Bill Russell won more championships (11) but even he has one Finals loss on his resume. Russell never won the Finals MVP (the award was first given out during his final year, when his Celtics won the championship but Jerry West of the L.A. Lakers became the first and still only member of the losing team to receive the Finals MVP). James can obviously never match Jordan's 6 for 6 perfection. Jordan also posted two three-peats and his retirement leaves open the legitimate question of whether he could have led the Bulls to eight straight NBA championships. James' supporters would counter that, unlike Jordan, James led two different franchises to a championship; they would also argue that James won with less support than Jordan, who had a Top 50 player in his prime (Scottie Pippen) plus arguably the greatest coach in pro basketball history (Phil Jackson). It is hard to predict which way popular perception will go on this issue, especially if James leads Cleveland to a championship this year either against the highly touted Warriors or against whichever team upsets the Warriors. I sense that the media is looking for a reason to justify ranking James alongside Jordan.

Objectively, what does James have to do to equal Jordan? I would say that first James has to pass Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, the two best players since James entered the NBA. Bryant and Duncan each won five NBA titles. Bryant was the best all-around player in the league for many years, while Duncan was a dominating force in the paint whose teams went 2-1 head to head versus James' teams in the NBA Finals. James needs a couple more championships just to get into the Bryant-Duncan wing of the Pantheon.

Of course, this is not purely about counting rings. I rank Julius Erving, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West very highly even though they "only" won three, one and one championships respectively. To some extent, the number of championships won is affected by the quality of one's teammates, the era that one plays in and other factors beyond one's control--but James has been blessed in those categories: he has spent his entire career in the weaker Eastern Conference (and thus he has had an easier path to the Finals) and he spent his prime years playing alongside two future Hall of Famers, one of whom is arguably among the five best players all-time at his position. Some say that winning one championship in Cleveland should count as multiple rings in this discussion but I don't buy that: if Kyrie Irving stays healthy he is on track to be an elite player for years to come and Kevin Love has perennial All-Star level talent even though he is being asked/required to sacrifice his numbers in favor of James and Irving. It is not like James led the Bad News Bears to a title.

James is likely past the point in his career when he could average 35 ppg or go off on some kind of Jordan/Bryant record setting scoring binge. James' personal statistical resume is already well-established, though he obviously will continue to move up in the career rankings. From my perspective, the only possible way that James could pass Bryant/Duncan in his era and merit comparison to Jordan would be to finish with at least six championships. Even if James does that, he still has some playoff shortcomings on his resume that will never be erased.

Early in James' career, I wrote about his "accelerated growth curve." No one could have predicted the exact path that curve would take in the ensuing years, as James suffered setbacks but also experienced great triumphs. The best thing that I can say about James is that he seems eager to learn from his mistakes and to continue to improve as a player and as a person. Maybe he will catch Jordan's ghost, maybe he won't, but his dedication to personal improvement is well worth emulating. 

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:53 PM

32 comments

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32 Comments:

At Sunday, November 06, 2016 3:02:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Regarding the Bulls, I think they're more smoke than fire; it is highly unlikely (though not impossible) that career 29% three point shooter Dwyane Wade and career 33% three point shooter Jimmy Butler will continue to make 47% percent of their threes; given that Fred Holberg's offense is very much a model of the "pace and space" approach, once one or both of those guys (particularly alongside non-3pt shooter Rajon Rondo) regress to the mean from distance, the paint will become much more crowded against them on defense.

Regarding Westbrook, he is certainly putting up numbers, but I would like to see him play against a few more legitimate teams (so far he beat the Clippers and got embarrassed by the Warriors) before deciding whether or not they actually mean anything; he put up similar production down the stretch of the 2015 season, but his team lost 7 of their last 11 games and generally got beat by playoff teams (though they did beat Portland).

I am also curious if OKC's current high defensive ranking is the real deal (4th), or a product of having played 2/3s of their games against teams like Phoenix and LAL; to their credit, they held LAC to a shockingly low 83 ppg. Adams, Roberson, and Odladipo are all excellent defenders, but Westbrook and Kanter are abominable, and Sabonis is a rookie (which does not necessarily mean he is a poor defender, but if he is not he is much more the exception than the rule).

Basically, it's too soon to know much about OKC and Westbrook except that RWB is putting up historic numbers.

I agree with you about Indiana, and would be surprised to see them make the playoffs.

I am surprised you didn't comment on Demar Derozan, who so far appears to have transformed into the second coming of Bernard King. I am personally dubious that he will maintain either his scoring output or his efficiency, but the league is certainly a more interesting place if he does, and so far he's been doing it against pretty tough competition; four of the five teams he's played so far were playoff teams last season, and the fifth is the Washington, who are by no means elite, but also certainly not bottom feeders.

The Warriors are certainly vulnerable inside, though I continue to think citing the '15 Finals as proof of that without noting that in the three of their four losses they were without a starting big is, at best, incomplete and at worst outright misleading. Most teams are vulnerable inside when they lose their starting center, particularly if that center is a top flight defender like Andrew Bogut. Of course, this season they have no Andrew Bogut, so...

 
At Sunday, November 06, 2016 3:02:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

As for my favorite team, the Suns continue to inexplicably start Tyson Chandler over Alex Len, have pretty much mortgaged whatever value there was in Brandon Knight, and don't seem to be much good, but they've played a tough early schedule and Devin Booker can certainly shoot, so perhaps there's hope. I also think Dragan Bender has a great deal of potential (his ceiling appears to be "7 foot tall Manu Ginobili who also blocks shots), but so far they're not giving him many minutes.

As for Goran Dragic, he's currently putting up 19.5 and 6.5 (pretty much exactly what I predicted from him) and his perimeter shot appears to have returned, but his team is doomed whenever he or Whiteside sit, and there are major problems at the 4 position (also as I predicted). By On-Off Ratings, his team is 17.5 points better when he plays than when he sits, which is extremely high, but a dead-end bench and no viable PFs may keep Miami from being much more than first round fodder. It is worth noting that in all three of their losses so far, Dragic has recorded a positive +-, but the team simply can't survive without him (or Whiteside) right now; against Toronto, they built a 12 point lead in the first, but over the five minutes Dragic sat it turned into a three point deficit. Toronto does not have a particularly scary bench (though Terrence Ross and Corey Joseph are both solid), and certainly not one that should be able to enact a fifteen point swing in just five minutes. Miami had better hope that the returns of Josh Richardson (and eventually Wayne Ellington) stem the bleeding there, or it is going to be a very long season. It is also not terribly helpful for Miami that Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters are jacking up 27.5 shots a game and making less than 35% of them, though one assumes that that combo of both volume and failure is unsustainable (either the shots will start to fall, or Spoelstra will call those numbers a bit less).

Tellingly, Miami's starting lineup is +35 per 100 (and they've played a few real teams already in TOR, SAS, and CHA) but the team as a whole is only +0.4 per 100.

 
At Sunday, November 06, 2016 5:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Westbrook can't control the schedule. We will have a larger sample size soon enough but so far he has led OKC to the best record in the West. I disagree that Westbrook's defense is terrible and we have already beat into the ground the subject of the 2015 season; if Westbrook had not missed so many games due to injury then they would have easily made the playoffs.

DeRozan and Dragic will be discussed in future posts.

 
At Sunday, November 06, 2016 5:42:00 PM, Blogger Keith said...

I've been much more impressed with the LeBron we've seen during his second stint in Cleveland than at any other point in his career, primarily because of his improved mental focus. He has slowed down a bit and his highlights aren't nearly as impressive as they were in his prime in Miami, but he seems to understand and is more committed to doing what his team needs him to do to win.

During his first stint in Cleveland you couldn't be sure he'd even make it out of the Eastern Conference, now it's expected of him. He also picked himself up and dusted himself off this year in the Finals after the Warriors went up 3 - 1 to win the championship, whereas as recently as 2014 against the Spurs he seemed to resign himself to losing. He's quietly averaging a near triple-double right now.

Some other impressions of mine on teams you didn't touch on:

The Sixers seem to have a little bit more pep in their step with Joel Embiid finally playing but they're still a terrible team. Even though Embiid has looked very nice so far, there are serious questions about a guy who has gone through two serious foot surgeries in two years. Even if he remains healthy, will he or Simmons or Okafor even want to stay in Philadelphia if the Sixers remain as lackluster as they are now 2 or 3 years down the road?

The Knicks seem rather mediocre once again but I like Kristaps Porzingis a lot. He is mature for his age, seems like a potential two-way threat, and has the sort of quiet, competitive attitude I like in a player. If Jackson hadn't hung his hat on trying to keep Carmelo around with a huge contract (before tearing down the team anyway), he could be surrounding his young budding star with better supporting talent.

The Central Division looks strong so far with the Pistons, Bucks, Bulls, and Cavs. The Southwest Division used to be the most fearsome but now it is pretty woeful outside of the Spurs.

 
At Monday, November 07, 2016 3:54:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...

David,
This is why i admire your basketball analysis ability, and also why i value players' evaluation of competitors (those with no filters and hidden agenda) over stat geeks when evaluating players. I believe stats should be in support of eye test instead of the other way around.
Way back, when westbrook was only in his first few seasons, kobe particularly praised russ, saying russ most resembled him on the court. The relentless will to win. The approach to the game. Back then, russ was still missing pullups more than he made them right now, and was nowhere near his mastery of the game right now. He hasnt mastered reading the game then, and has none of the passing skills/reads he has now. But kobe rightly saw thru all those kinks. And you too. But media was lambasting russ, noreso the stat geeks.
I cringe everytime i see lebron or durant heave the ball only after buzzer sounds for end of quarters. I enjoy every kobe, curry, russ effort to shoot the ball to beat the end of quarter buzzers. Right there we all can see who plays to win all the time. That is also why curry's 50 40 90 is so much more impressive than durant's in my eyes.
Kudos for always reading the game right, and for writing it entertainingly well also.

 
At Monday, November 07, 2016 8:47:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...

David,
My 2 cents on the warriors...
I believe the warriors are 1 of the legitimate contenders this year, alongside the cavs, spurs and clippers.
Though i believe the lack of shot blocking and rebounding will be big issues for them this year come the 2nd round of the playoffs onwards (1st round playoff fodder unless something weird happens for any team they face there), the regular season will be easy for them as their superior ball/player movement and shooting will overwhelm most opponents.
Their defense will certainly be an issue as players have to stay in front of their men even thru switches, and mistakes on the perimeter will be magnified as a lack of shotblocking center exposes this weakness. The other issue i have is that this lack of shotblocking center deprives them of another dimension to their game. As any coach will tell you, they all appreciate a lineup that gives them flexibility to attack an opponent both offensively and defensively.
But the upside is that their 'death lineup' just got deadlier both offensively and defensively. Durant replaced barnes on that lineup, and he is both an offensive and defensive upgrade over barnes. The good thing is that the warriors expect this to be their closeout lineup during the playoffs, and they will be unstoppable offensively and a pitbull defensively when this lineup is playing. Now, they have all season to figure out how to manage the rest of the game.

 
At Wednesday, November 09, 2016 1:46:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Keith:

I agree with you about LeBron.

Colangelo is a smart basketball man but Hinkie left him with a huge mess.

The "stat gurus" blamed Isiah Thomas for ruining the Knicks but the real problem is Dolan, as I have been saying for a decade.

 
At Wednesday, November 09, 2016 1:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jackson188:

Thank you very much for your kind words.

Very few teams can beat the Warriors in a seven game series but of course that does not mean that they will win the championship, because they will likely have to face those teams in the playoffs.

 
At Saturday, November 12, 2016 7:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marcel


James harden been the best player in nba so far. He a great geeat player david 31ppg 13apg 7rpg. No player been better. Put some respek on his name david.

Westbrook been good but still out of control.

Durant is best player on the warriors by far.

And my lakers look solid..idk if randle and d angelo Russell are starts tho. I like ingram as future star

 
At Sunday, November 13, 2016 5:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

D'Antoni's system enables ordinary pgs to increase their numbers dramatically (for instance, look back at Duhon with the Knicks). Good, All-Star level guards like Nash and Harden can also pad their offensive numbers dramatically; their defensive shortcomings are glossed over, at least during the regular season. Put another way, Michael Adams averaged over 26 ppg for Westhead's Nuggets but that did not make him an All-NBA First Team player.

Westbrook has been the best player in the NBA thus far.

I agree with you about Durant.

The Lakers have certainly started well. Let's see if they maintain this level.

 
At Monday, November 14, 2016 10:01:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I haven't been watching enough ball to say for sure who's been the best so far this year (hard to focus on sports lately, let's not go into it any further than that), but I'd be shocked if it was either Harden or Westbrook.

From what I have seen, it's either Lebron, Durant, or Leonard, all of whom play both sides of the ball for teams that are winning a lot.

Yes, those teams have much better support than OKC or especially HOU, but it continues to boggle my mind how people are just snowed by gaudy offensive statistics while ignoring the other half of the game. Harden remains a potential league-worst defender. Westbrook's about two classes better, which is still pretty bad. Durant/Lebron/Leonard are all playing All-NBA offensive ball and All-Defense level defensive ball. Pretty sure doing both those things should be requirement #1 for "best player." The next category, IMO, is guys like Curry or a seemingly reinvigorated Dwight Howard* who play MVP level on one end and way above average on the other. Then the Derozans/Westbrooks/Hardens who are superhuman on one end but somewhere between average and disastrous on the other.

* I haven't seen a single Hawks game yet. But people I trust are telling me he looks like PEAK DWIGHT on D, and if that's true, it's good enough for that tier, IMO.

 
At Tuesday, November 15, 2016 1:26:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Yes, there is a lot of non-sports news and this forum is not the place to discuss all of that.

Westbrook essentially averaged a 30 point triple double for the team with the best record in the West to open the season. The Thunder have since lost a few but Westbrook remains dominant. LeBron is obviously always in the discussion. Kawhi and Durant are also playing at an MVP level, as you noted.

Now that Howard is reasonably healthy and away from the Harden sideshow he once again is playing at an elite level.

Harden is a very good player in a gimmicky system but I would not be so quick to diminish what Westbrook and DeRozan are doing. I already posted about Westbrook and I am working on something about DeRozan.

 
At Tuesday, November 15, 2016 11:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leonard has lost in the 1st and 2nd rounds in 2 years as best player on stacked teams. Even if Westbrook is as bad as you say he is on defense, he's still a legit MVP candidate and probably the early season frontrunner.

Bird and Magic were below-average defenders and they're in almost everyone's top 10 list, and rightfully so. I'm not sure if Bird deserved 3 MVPs, but he probably deserved at least 1. Each of them accomplished a lot individually and team-wise. While they had great teams for most of their careers, most top players did as well. While West had to go up against those celtic teams most years, he played with Baylor for most of his career, a player clearly better than any player Bird ever played with, and then Wilt. West/Wilt dominated one year, but then couldn't back it up again. If West was as good as Bird, he would've won more than one title, and West was supposed awesome on both sides of the ball. James has had 9 consecutive championship contender casts around him including this year as well as 2007(if he played anywhere near MVP level in the finals in 2007 the series goes at least 6-7 games), including a cakewalk to the finals most years in the East, and only has 3 titles to show for it. Even if Bird stayed as healthy as James has been, his celtic casts didn't remain good enough for this long.

At some point Nick, you have to question yourself the way you evaluate players. David likes to bash certain players, but given his overall player evaluations/praises, it seems clear he also agrees with me that individual offense is much more important than individual defense. Again, I challenge you to find me a team Bruce Bowen, Shane Battier, or Andre Roberson could lead to the playoffs as one-way defensive players let alone a CF.

 
At Wednesday, November 16, 2016 1:45:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I value both offense and defense but I agree for the most part with your contention that it would be more difficult for a one-way defensive player to lead a team to a title than it would be for a one-way offensive player to do so. Bill Russell was better at defense than offense but he made significant offensive contributions by initiating the fast break with outlet passes, by setting screens and by serving as a high post playmaker (in addition to also running the court and serving as a finisher on the secondary fast break).

I disagree with the notion that I "bash certain players." I evaluate players and I rank players, applying consistent criteria that I explicitly state and that form the basis for the analysis contained within my articles. You may disagree with the criteria and/or the rankings but I don't just randomly "bash" players; there are more than enough media members who bash players due to personal grudges and other biases. Of course, fans of particular players may not enjoy it when I argue persuasively (and correctly) that their favorite player is not elite/won't win a championship/is not better than player x, y or z--but there is a big difference between analysis and bashing. Even if I am eventually proven wrong about a player (which has happened, but not very often) that does not mean I was bashing that player, provided that my analysis was based on objective factors and not personal bias.

For instance, during the height of the lamentable "Agent Zero" hype, I asserted that Gilbert Arenas was overrated, that he did not deserve MVP consideration and that he would never be the best player on a team that advanced past the second round of the playoffs. That did not go over very well with some Wizards' bloggers--but everything that I stated proved to be quite correct. The media portrayed Arenas as "quirky" but I portrayed him as someone who lacked the necessary judgment and leadership skills to be a champion; I think that his locker room gun showdown with Javarris Crittenton--who was subsequently jailed for voluntary manslaughter--belatedly convinced the last holdouts that I had been right all along. None of that means that I "hate" Arenas--I have met him and interviewed him face to face and he seemed like a nice guy--I just don't think that he was a great basketball player.

On the other hand, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was aloof and dismissive of me on both times that I tried to interview him but--unlike many other media members--my personal interactions with him did not in the slightest affect my evaluation of his career; I still maintain that he is perhaps the most underrated great player in the history of the sport.

To put all of the above much more concisely, I resent the accusation that I "bash" players. I take great pride in (1) my ability to analyze this sport and (2) my objectivity. I may not always be right but I am never intentionally wrong just for the sake of "bashing" someone.

 
At Wednesday, November 16, 2016 11:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, you're right about Arenas, but that is obvious, especially since he never reached elite status, though close for a few years. You are very consistent overall evaluating players, but there are exceptions. I liked, more in the past, about how you called to light the incompetent stat gurus. I've noticed you don't like to being wrong, though we all are at times. I'm not for predictions, but you are. Paul's been elite/borderline elite player for a few years. Some of your criticisms of him are correct. Fine, he's not James, Durant, or Curry. And look how much help each of them needed to win, and Durant still has only reached one finals-losing, and that was with Harden. You talk up players you like, and vice versa. If you liked Paul/Harden, you'd talk about them more and in a much better light. You discredit them continuously and even take shots at them when they do awesome, it gets old. I don't remember hearing any negativity about Leonard or Aldridge about the last 2 years. Paul maybe slightly, but Harden hasn't had anywhere near the casts as these 2. I mean, so what if Harden never wins a title? Why do you continuously point that out with him and maybe Paul at times, and nobody else? How could he win against GS, SA, or CLE? It's a 3-team race this year, nobody else even has a chance unless major injuries happen to all 3. I like Westbrook, but let's see what happens this year. OKC was the top team in the West early on, and now they're barely hanging onto the 8 seed, though still early. Westbrook and Harden each have no other teammate even coming close to resembling an AS. They have no chance to win much. Will you say the same about Westbrook not making it out of the 1st round as the top player on his team after OKC loses in the first round, if OKC even makes the playoffs?

I'm confused why Harden's stats are meaningless when Westbrook's and other top stars aren't. You keep saying 'gimmicky,' but don't expand on that. Does Westbrook, James, Curry, Durant, or any other PG in the league not dominate the ball either? HOU's offense is pretty awesome, and Harden's initiating almost all of it. Even when HOU made the WCF in 2015, it was excuse upon excuse denigrating all the way. Why is that necessary? Can't we just enjoy players for who they are? Just like today, you posted a nice article about DeRozan. Hmm, I wonder if we'll see a similarly nice article about Harden? Several of the skills Harden has, you to like discredit him for. He's the best at drawing fouls in the nba, but yet you discredit him for the way he sometimes draws foul. So what if you don't like it and neither do I, but it works. He's been in MVP consideration before, and again so far this year, that's not a fluke. Guys you respect like Mark Jackson, JVG, and Collins among many others continue to praise Harden. Everyone's wrong at times, and who knows what will happen in the future, but how can all these good nba experts, who aren't stat gurus, be so wrong about how one player is currently playing or has played in the past? Are they all blinded by something about him, too? Have you thought about all of this before? I've never put Harden above Durant or James, though I thought he deserved MVP in 2015 like many people. And I wouldn't take him over Westbrook or Curry. Leonard's probably better and a more complete player, but he's failed miserably the last 2 years. Leonard is in the perfect situation, too. He has everything to succeed.

 
At Wednesday, November 16, 2016 2:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

This, I think, is where David and I most disagree:

"I value both offense and defense but I agree for the most part with your contention that it would be more difficult for a one-way defensive player to lead a team to a title than it would be for a one-way offensive player to do so. Bill Russell was better at defense than offense but he made significant offensive contributions by initiating the fast break with outlet passes, by setting screens and by serving as a high post playmaker (in addition to also running the court and serving as a finisher on the secondary fast break)."

Has there even been a one-way player of either ilk to win? Let's look at the last forty years or so:

2016/13/12: Lebron James is definitely a two-way superstar.
2015: Curry is superhuman offensively, and well-above average defensively.
2014: Whether you pick Duncan or Leonard as their best player, the Spurs' best player was two-way (but better on D).
2011: Dirk was a supreme offensive player and a roughly average, maybe slightly above, defensive player. This may be your best case.
2009-10: Kobe did not give a consistent defensive effort in the regular season, but was certainly capable of All-D level effort and played that way when it counted most.
2008: Whether you pick Pierce or Garnett, both are two-way demons.
2007/05/03/99: Duncan obviously a two-way monster.
2006: Wade at the time was a tremendous two-way player, though he no longer plays defense.
2004: Finals MVP Billups was a two-way player, though you could make the case that Detroit's actual most important player was Ben Wallace, who was very much a one-way defensive player.
2000-02: Shaq had some trouble in the PnR defensively, but was an All-Defensive level defender during this period.
1991-93, 96-98: Jordan obviously two-way.
94/95: Olajuwon obviously two-way.
89/90: Thomas certainly a two-way player.
80/82/85/87-88: Reasonable men can differ about who was best on this team which year, but Kareem and Worthy were both two-way players. Magic was a poor defender but excellent defensive rebounder, and never won a title without playing with Kareem and at least two other All-Defensive level player (Cooper/Green/Wilkes). 88, along with Dirk, though, is probably the best case for a one-way offensive player leading a team to a title.
81/84/86: Bird was probably an overrated defender, but certainly not a bad one, and made the All-D team. Also shared the front court with two other All-Defensive players and had an All-D PG.
83: Doc and Moses were both two-way monsters.
79: Dennis Johnson was an All-Defensive stalwart.
78: Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld both above average defenders.
77: Walton was a defensive god.
74/76: Erving (ABA) and your pick of either Havlicek or Cowens were great two way players.
75: Barry was a transcendent offensive player and a very good defensive one. The ABA's Gilmore was the inverse.

 
At Wednesday, November 16, 2016 2:09:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

So, looking over the last forty years, you have three candidates for "One way player led their team to a title":
Dirk in '11, an average or slightly above defender backed by an elite shot blocker/rebounder, a perennial All-Defensive guard, and Shawn Marion (a frequent top 10 votegetter for DPOY, though he was kept out of the All-D team by sharing a position with Battier/Bowen in their primes).

Wallace in '04, an offensive tirefire but defensive powerhouse backed by three potential 20 ppg scorers.

Magic in '88. A poor defender but arguably the greatest offensive force of all-time, backed by three current or former All-Defensive selections as well as three current or future All-Stars (one a 6x MVP, another the previous year's Finals MVP).

It is worth noting that none of those three were as poor a defender as Westbrook, let alone Harden, who are the two players that trigger this argument most frequently.

The reasonable conclusion to draw there is that is nigh-impossible to lead a team to a title as a one-way player of either ilk, with the only three possible exceptions all 1) dubious selections in the first place (Magic and Dirk had *some* defensive value, Wallace arguably not his team's best player), 2) were backed by an astonishingly strong starting lineup with at least three other current/former/future All-Stars.

On the other hand, almost every title team in NBA history has been led by a demonstrably gifted two-way player, which is why I take guys like Leonard/Lebron/Durant (and probably second-tier two-wayers like Paul George and Klay Thompson) over guys like Westbrook (and CERTAINLY guys like Harden) without blinking. It's also why I don't believe either Westbrook or Harden has much shot of winning a title unless they get at *least* the quality of support (multiple other All-Stars and several All-Defensers) described above and/or are not the best player on their team.

 
At Wednesday, November 16, 2016 8:03:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...

David, anonymous, nick,

Allow me to provide some middle ground, as we are all ardent fans of this game. Just writing this to foster kinship among us.
It is obvious that mr. Anonymous is also a knowledgable student/fan of the game. He did cited some valid points and i hope david will post his opinion regarding kawhi so we may know where he stands among the current elite players and among the greats.
Though i also agree with mr. Anonymous' comment regarding mr. Nick's having to accede certain points when evaluating players because sometimes it is very obvious already to me, and david, of course, but i always appreciated mr. Nick's passionate arguing of his case. At least, he seldom resorts to ad hominem tactics.
But please let me state this... david is writing all these articles for us without getting paid for his efforts. And he takes time out to respond to comments. We can say that he WAS brash and dismissive at times before, but if we were to read how he responds toc omments lately, there have been a lot of mellowing down. So let us appreciate the man and give him credit for it. What was 'bashing' in the eyes of mr. Anonymous might be david's writing to respond to mainstream media's articles. Maybe sometimes he writes articles regarding certain players repeatedly to further validate his previous article. Maybe he wants to drive home a point. But bashing might really not be what he is doing. From what i see, he writes about certain players when they deserve being evaluated, being compared to current elites and past greats.
But david, i would also appreciate an article regarding kawhi when you have time.
Have a good day buddies.

 
At Wednesday, November 16, 2016 8:26:00 PM, Blogger jackson888 said...

Anonymous,
I have been a fan of westbrook, like you.
But i dont like harden's game. Maybe it is the way he draws fouls, maybe it is his nonchalant attitude, maybe it is his 'too cool demeanor' that looks like a lack of passion for winning. That is why i am a reader and not an analyst writer... lol

Nick,
I am a lefty, so i am always secretly rooting for a lefty.
But please allow me this opinion. Dragic is not as good as you think he is. What is good for the gander should be good for the goose. With the current heat roster, and playing in the east, if he has elite skill set and physique, we should reasonably expect more from him and better record from the heat.

 
At Wednesday, November 16, 2016 10:36:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jackson-

I don't disagree that the Heat are currently underwhelming. However, they've had a brutal early schedule (they've had as many games against non-playoff teams as they have against the Spurs) and pretty bad injury luck (including Dragic). With Dragic in the lineup, the worst team they've lost to so far is OKC. They have yet to play a single game with their projected starting lineup of Whiteside/?/Winslow/Richardson/Dragic. For the six games they played with Dragic, they went 2-4. Looking at the schedule over that stretch, I'd have predicted 3-3 (I thought they might beat OKC, but lose to CHA, TOR, & SAS), so I'm not shocked that they're where they are now.

It will be interesting to see how they do when Dragic comes back/the schedule softens some. I am not sure the East is as weak as it has been this year, but even if it is the teams from the East they've played so far are: Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando (who they beat), Toronto, Chicago, and Atlanta. Chicago was the only other one of those teams I expected them to be better than, and Dragic got hurt halfway through that one (though in fairness he wasn't playing very well that night before the injury).

I predicted Dragic would average 18-20 & 6-7 assists. Prior to getting hurt, he was averaging 18-6, so at least statistically he was playing about as I expected him to. Assuming they get some time with their proper starting lineup all healthy, I would expect at least the assist numbers to inch up (Richardson will presumably convert on a higher percentage of the jumpers Dragic feeds him than Waiters (currently shooting 35%)). The scoring is hard to meaningfully evaluate in a 6 game sample size, but I would expect it to similarly go up a point or so as with Waiters out of the starting lineup Goran figures to have a few more touches.

Additionally, logically either Winslow will start making more shots or stop taking so many. That could have an effect on both Goran's numbers and the team's overall performance. As-is, Waiters and Winslow are jacking up 27 shots a game and making about 34% of them. That's... not great for the Heat's chances, but strikes me as unsustainable.

I suspect MIA will improve quite a bit once they get their injury/rotation sorted out, but as I mentioned when trying to predict their fortunes this year, they are extremely vulnerable to injury and don't have a clear sense of who or what their power forward should be, and either of those issues going poorly for them could turn them from playoff contender to lottery fodder. Neither of those problems are a reflection on Dragic, though of course if he is healthy for an extended period and they continue to underperform that won't look great for him.

That all said, I'm not terribly interested in arguing more about him right now while he's out with an injury. Much as I was hesitant to make too much of OKC's early record, I hesitate to judge really anybody on the first six games of the season; anybody can have six good or bad games, and in a sample size like that, schedule matters a lot, too. Let's revisit once Dragic's been back on his feet for a few weeks and we have a more usable sample than six games.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2016 12:30:00 AM, Blogger jackson888 said...

David,
Since the clippers grisslies game is on, i am curious who is the better center, jordan or marc gasol...
Pd... i like gasol's all around game more than jordan's dominant shot blocking and rebounding prowess...

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2016 12:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

That I was right about Arenas may be obvious to you (and really should be obvious to everyone now) but it was not considered obvious at that time, when I was accused of harboring some bias against Arenas.

In terms of admitting being wrong, I have done so many times. For instance, my default tendency is to believe that most rookies are overrated/overhyped and that most coaches who jump to the NBA from college will struggle. In general those propositions are true, but I have been wrong about some rookies and some coaches (most recently, I underestimated Billy Donovan and Brad Stephens).

I am not sure what you think that I have said about Paul that is unfair. I ranked him as the best pg in the NBA for a few years but I vociferously disagreed with "stat gurus" who elevated him over Kobe. I expressed admiration for his toughness and all-around game but predicted that he is too small to lead a team to a title because he will wear down over the course of the playoffs. I also demonstrated that he is likely credited with more assists than he should be (which is really a critique of the scorekeepers, not Paul). Paul is the modern player most like Isiah but just like I would not take Kobe over MJ I would not take Paul over Isiah. Reasonable people can disagree about some of these things but in my articles about Paul over the years I have stated with great specificity why I believe the things that I do about him.

Regarding Harden v. Aldridge, rest assured that if Aldridge were being hyped as an MVP candidate I would have a lot to say about that. Harden is a very talented player. He will deservedly make the All-Star team a bunch of times. He is just not an MVP level player to me and I firmly believe that as long as he is Houston's best player the Rockets will be a perennial one and done team in the playoffs no matter how much they keep changing his supporting cast. By the way, D'Antoni has publicly stated that this is the best team he has coached in many years, so let's not hear crocodile tears about Harden's supporting cast. D'Antoni has the players he wants to run the system he wants to run, so if/when the Rockets flame out in the first round there should be no excuses.

I don't know what I will say about Westbrook after the season until I see how the season goes! I do know that the Thunder roster was built around Durant, not Westbrook. Durant is an iso-heavy player who shoots a lot of jumpers, while Westbrook is at his best attacking the paint. Westbrook would benefit if the Thunder surrounded him with better shooting (as the Rockets have done for Harden). I picked OKC seventh in the West and Houston eighth.

As for Kawhi Leonard, he is an unusual player with an unusual career arc. I will write about him in more detail when I have a chance.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2016 12:54:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

Interesting list and I get the overall point that you are trying to make but--as is sometimes the case--I think that you go a little too far to make your case. To cite just one example, the 2006 version of Wade may very well have fit your mold as a two-way player but he led the Heat to the title because of his incredible offensive productivity, not because of his defensive contributions. If Wade had been an even better defender but had scored 17 ppg in the Finals then the Heat would not have beaten Dallas. A similar comment could be made about many of the players you listed; yes, they were two way players in a way that Harden clearly is not, but most of those guys were dominating on offense to propel their teams over the top.

Like you, I value two way players over one dimensional players but I think that most of those guys who were the best players on championship teams were more dominant offensively than defensively.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2016 1:01:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jackson 188:

I appreciate your comments and your recognition that I have evolved as a basketball analyst (and person) in the past few years.

I will do a Kawhi Leonard article at some point but I want to do it right and that takes time that I don't always have at the moment. Leonard's career and skill set are unusual.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2016 1:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

As for Dragic, it is not surprising that Nick and I can draw different conclusions from the same set of facts (though I do agree with Nick that the sample size right now is small). Regardless of whether Dragic averages 15 ppg or 18 ppg or even 20 ppg, this season is clearly an opportunity for him to prove that he is in fact an elite pg and he is not showing any signs that he is; his individual numbers are solid but not great and if he is having some kind of magical impact on his teammates this has yet to translate into wins.

Wade is out of the picture, the keys have been turned over to Dragic and he is running the show (at least until he got hurt). I am not at all surprised that the results thus far indicate that Dragic is a solid player who is unable to even lift the Heat to .500, much less to the playoffs. Side note on Wade: during the TNT telecast of the Chi-Mia game, Kenny Smith repeatedly made the point that what Mia needs most is a player like Dwyane Wade, someone who can create a shot for himself and for his teammates. I had to laugh out loud, realizing how much Nick would completely disagree with that take on so many levels.

Dragic's career-best year in PHX was a not to be repeated outlier and I predict that in a couple years Tyler Johnson (or someone else) will be Miami's starting pg, with Dragic relegated to the bench (or traded to another team, where he likely will finish his career on the bench unless he prefers returning to Europe to be a starter there).

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2016 1:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jackson 188:

A healthy Gasol is a better all-around player than Jordan. However, depending on roster compositions, Jordan might be a better fit because of his athleticism and his dominant rebounding/shot blocking.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2016 2:01:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

David-

I'm not sure I disagree with the observation that most of those players were better on offense than defense. If I do, it's not by much. How the ratio shakes out largely depends on whether you consider Jordan and/or Kareem to be better on offense than on defense, or roughly equal. That said, there are plenty of title-leading players who were better on defense than offense (Russell, Hakeem, Duncan, Unseld, Gilmore, arguably Walton, arguably Dennis Johnson). My point was not that defense is better than offense, but that two way is better than one way. Let's look at your Wade example in that light.

You are correct that Wade averaging 17 wouldn't have been enough in that series, particularly given that Shaq was the only other Miami player who could get the ball in the basket. However, if Wade had averaged 42 but played Harden-level defense they also probably would have lost.

Moreover, had Wade averaged exactly what he did and played Harden level defense, they definitely would have lost, which is what I was getting at. It may not be impossible for a one-way player to be the best player on an NBA title team, but if it isn't it requires an extraordinary set of circumstances and support to happen. If Westbrook or Harden (and I feel bad listing them together like this, as I'd take Westbrook over Harden in a heartbeat) wish to be the best player on a title team, they will either need to approach defensive respectability or luck into a team loaded with elite defenders (Westbrook actually has a pretty stellar defensive starting cast around him now, but they have no bench and none of them can shoot, so it's something of a wash) and complimentary two-way stars.

I continue to believe that offense and defense are of roughly equivalent value, though I would perhaps concede that for ball-dominant perimeter player's offense is slightly more important as they are the focal point of a possession on that end more often. By a similar token, I'd also contend that defense is probably slightly more important for bigs, who can sometimes affect nearly every defensive possession while they're on the court.

I have nothing further to add about Dragic until we've seen a more usable sample-size. Arguing about him tiptoeing the line between our respective predictions over a six-game stretch will not yield anything for either of us, I imagine.

I agree with your points in general about Houston and Harden, but I would not use D'antoni's comment as evidence thereof; what coach, in that scenario (first year, ego-driven star, guy you hate who cost you your last job just abandoned this team too), wouldn't say that or something similar? The Rockets have only one star (and a tragically defense-adverse one at that) so it is unrealistic to expect too much out of them regardless of whether or not D'antoni is getting to run his system. Running Harden as the poor-man's Nash with Trevor Ariza as their second best player is not a recipe for any kind of real success.

As a Phoenix fan I have a soft spot for D'antoni, but this is not, in my opinion, the kind of team he needs to be successful, nor is Harden the kind of player. A team like Washington or Minnesota would be a lot of fun to watch him coach (and each have guys who can both play his system on O and work well enough individually to survive some in the absence of a system on D), but this I suspect will go south fairly soon. They have only one win against quality competition, and that one, going purely by box-score (Aldridge shot 33% while being guarded by Ryan Anderson?), has the feel of a fluke.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2016 2:08:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Jackson/David-

I agree about Gasol over Jordan, and I'm glad David mentioned the "depending on roster composition" point. Too often in these discussions we end up in an X or Y binary, but that's not how basketball works.

For example, there are some teams on which Harden would be more valuable than, say, Jimmy Butler (and this particular Houston outfit is one of them) due to his superior offensive game filling a massive void on that roster. But in a vacuum, or on most teams, I'd much rather have Butler.

Back on Gasol, I thin he's one of the great what-ifs of this era of basketball. He was certainly a very good player, but it seemed like every time he showed flashes of becoming a great one he'd get hurt (and usually gain weight while he was out). I forget whether it was last year or the year before where he was pretty clearly the best big, and maybe the best player, in the league for the first twenty games or so before injuries brought him back down to Earth. I would have liked to get two or three uninterrupted seasons of peak Gasol to see what his ceiling was; I imagine he could have been basically his brother on offense, while simultaneously a DPOY-level guy on D. On the right team, that could be an MVP contender. Alas, we never *really* got to see it.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2016 11:45:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

If all you are contending is that it would be difficult for a one way player of either ilk (offense-minded or defense-minded) to lead a team to a championship then I agree. I thought that you were contending that most of the championship teams of the past four decades were led by players who were better/more dominant defensively than offensively.

 
At Friday, November 18, 2016 3:43:00 AM, Blogger Nick F said...

Nah, my point was supposed to be that one-way players (i.e., Harden) rarely if ever are the best player on a title team, nevermind the best player in the league. Reasonable men can differ over whether offense or defense matters more (as above, I think it may vary by role/position), but I think we can both probably agree that somebody who's really good at both is more valuable than somebody who is transcendent at one but mediocre or terrible at the other.

 
At Saturday, November 19, 2016 2:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Nick:

I misunderstood your original point. I agree with you. For the record, I don't prefer scorers to two-way players but I think that (1) I value scorers a little more than you do in certain situations and (2) we disagree about how to evaluate defense in certain situations (you appear to trust some metrics that I do not trust as fully).

 
At Monday, November 21, 2016 12:59:00 PM, Blogger Nick F said...

I agree with both of those points, though I'd like to clarify that the number one with a bullet thing I use to evaluate defense is eye test; I use statistics to put what I already observe in a proper context/to see if there's a disconnect between what I think I see and what actually is. That said, I feel like there's only one* player we particularly strongly disagree about on defense (Westbrook), a case in which I think you are more impressed by his athleticism and energy than I am (and less harsh on his inattentiveness/impulsiveness) so I think there we're actually usually pretty close to the mark.

*We also disagree about late-period Kobe's level of engagement/effort on that end, but I think we're on the same page with regards to his capabilities. We may also disagree about current Wade's defense, not sure what your stance on that is these days, but last season you seemed unbothered by his non-effort.

I do agree that there are situations where you value scorers more than I do, and I think in general I'm a little bit more impressed by both efficiency and on/offs than you are.

 

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